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MCA Atelier S.R.O, Prague, Czech Republic

Monday 12 Mar 2012

Revitalisation of the 'Crucifix Bastion'

Filip Slapal, Pavla Melkova, Miroslav Cikan 
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Bringing new recreational and cultural functions to the centre of Prague 

The Bastion XXXI is a part of the medieval fortifications of the New Town of Prague, founded in 1348 by Emperor Charles IV. Along with the fortress of Vyšehrad, another significant monument of the city fortifications, the ramparts form a significant defensive complex, yet one hidden beneath the later layers of the contemporary built fabric of central Prague, now a UNESCO heritage site. The impermeability of the area created an inner periphery, a strip of inaccessible and unused greenery within the central city, in certain points approaching the character of a "brownfield".

The construction is part of a wider planned conception for linking the green areas and public spaces of the university campus at Albertov with the adjoining neighbourhoods of the New Town and Vinohrady. MCA Atelier's goal was the landscaping of the public area, the addition of an open-air café and gallery on the site of a ruined building from the 19 century and linking the spaces inside and outside the medieval fortification line that has kept the area of gardens and the university campus separate from the other sections of the city.

Revitalisation was completed on the basis of the winning entry in a public architectural competition, held by the district government of Prague in 2007. The new structure for public facilities was designed as a building below ground, a hidden acropolis attracting visitors with its contents and its form, not through mere visibility. It is conceived as an autonomous, solid "seashell", inserted into the layerings of the archaeologically defined stratigraphic levels of Baroque and modern terrain, while not disturbing the character of the fortifications and the visual outline of the defensive walls. In its formal vocabulary, the building is elementary, minimal, and grounded in the material principles of fortification architecture: firmness.

The structure is available for varying uses: a universal hall for exhibitions, social functions or a café, facilities for the public and for operation. With its open front sliding-glass wall, turned towards the panorama of Vyšehrad, the exterior becomes a fully valid component of the interior. Included in the realization is the reconstruction of the wall chapel, supplemented with a contemporary sculpture, "The Crucifixion" (Bozi muka).

Revitalisation of the Bastion is the first realized stage of a much larger project intended to spur the process of revival in the wider vicinity, leading local residents to visit the area, and attracting public attention to allow for the continuation of further stages in the project. Insertion of new recreational and cultural functions into the structure of heritage objects makes possible their rescuing - not as lifeless museum-objects, but as a natural, living part of the city. The ensuing architectonic form is proof of the possibilities of connecting the heritage approach to the restoration of historically valuable structures, and the measured yet self-confident contemporary implementation of new contextually aware architecture.

In addition to the contextual supplementing and the increasing of the potential of the extant environment, the new buildings can also provide the aesthetic experience of their architecture in itself. Complexly layered volumes were created not through the mere accretion of details, but instead through the placement of a layer of volumes into the actual masses and space, volumes that accent, initiate or even merely play host to the subtle impressions of the environment.

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